Perhaps the most gratifying experience this Christmas was watching my son Judah give Christmas presents to his siblings. Weeks before Christmas, Judah was busy shopping online with his mother’s assistance, looking for the most ridiculously huge lego sets he could find to give to his brother Noah and sister Stella.
In typical Judah fashion, he didn’t just ‘go big’ on the size of the lego sets. He ‘went big’ on the price, too! Between birthday money, allowance and funds he earned from doing odd jobs, Judah somehow managed to save a small fortune over the past year. He kept the money well secured in a large, gallon-size plastic bag in his top dresser drawer.
Without any thought for his own financial well-being, he bought his siblings the kinds of gifts he himself would dream of receiving. These were gifts Judah knew would not only surprise the recipients but would overwhelm them with joy and happiness.
For the weeks leading up to the big day, I didn’t know if Judah would be able to keep the gifts a secret. He could barely contain his excitement.
In the end, my most enjoyable experience on Christmas day was watching Judah hand his siblings their massive presents while bouncing up and down excitedly watching them open their gifts. It reminded me of when the Apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders encouraging them to remember “the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, 'There is more happiness in giving than in receiving’" Acts 20:35 (GNT).
It turns out that Jesus knew what he was talking about. There really is more happiness in giving than in receiving. Or as some versions say, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
In a recent article on studyfinds.org, author Terra Marquette analyzed data from two studies published in Psychological Science and conducted by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Upon review of the two studies, Marquette noted that “The joy of having our own desires met is always fleeting. Perhaps surprisingly, however, giving to others creates a more lasting happiness.”
It seems that even science attests to the truthfulness of Jesus’ words: giving is better than receiving. If that be true, then we are most like Jesus and most obedient to Him when we give. And no matter how much money you have or how old you are, we can all get in on the joy of Christmas by giving our time, our gifts, our resources and ourselves.
On Sunday I shared a story with you about two heromakers in my life: Gene and Harold. When I was 20 years old, these two men saw God’s potential in me and invited me to join them as they planted a church in rural Kansas. That experience was part of what catapulted me forward in God’s call on my life as a worship leader and pastor.
It all happened because of an “I-C-N-U” conversation. I-C-N-U conversations (“I See In You”) are things that heromakers initiate. Heromakers are people who lay aside the need to be the hero and instead focus on making heroes of others, helping them to reach their God given, potential for the sake of multiplying God’s Kingdom in the world. And anyone can be a heromaker by investing in the lives of people around them.
Imagine what it must have been like for a couple of professional fishermen to have a rabbi come seek them out at their workplace and invite them to “Come, follow me….and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mt 4:19). Jesus had an “I-C-N-U” moment with Peter and his brother Andrew essentially telling them, “I see something in you that you’re not even aware of yet. I think you have what it takes to be part of my crew and then do what I do.” They heard what He said and responded.
Apart from that I-C-N-U moment, they may have never seen the potential that Jesus saw in them to be leaders in His movement. But Jesus saw in them a group of people who could change the world. And they did!
Can you think of a heromaker in your own life? Someone who has had an “I-C-N-U” conversation with you? What did they see in you? To whom can you be a heromaker this week? Ask God to give you eyes to see what He is doing and what He can do through someone in your life? Ask Him to give you the ability to see the Kingdom potential in people around you. And then go and have that conversation and watch what God can do through one small “I-C-N-U” conversation.
"Teach us to number our days..." (Psalms 90:12)
When was the last time you paused to consider how you were living life?
Last week a man in my friend's Pennsylvania congregation never showed up to pick up his son after school. After a call from the school, his wife found him at home, unresponsive. He died from heart complications. He was just 37 years-old and expecting the birth of his second child on May 10th.
At the memorial service, the man's wife and now widow, had the strength to stand and share about her husband's life and the grace that God had showed them in the past year. You see, until recently, her husband hadn't really paid much attention to how he was living. But after an initial scare with his health, God caught hold of his life and from that point on everything changed. He lived with a renewed sense of purpose before God.
That much was clear from his widow's remarks about their final week of life together. Even then he was living his life in light of eternity. She noted how their final week had truly been a gift as her husband did and said things that were deeply meaningful and brought closure to private, personal matters in her heart and mind.
This Psalm of Moses reminds us that we need to ask God to "teach us to number our days." The NLT says, "teach us to realize the brevity of life...." Our lives are dotted by these moments when we realize it's brevity. That's where Moses found himself and it caused him to ask God for the wisdom to understand how to live his short, fleeting life.
We don't have to wait for a crisis to begin asking God for what Moses did. We can ask God today to begin teaching us how to live all of our life with sobriety, clarity and wisdom.
You see, there are ultimately two ways of living life: we can live according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. We can have a Kingdom of God perspective or a kingdom of this world perspective. In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul reminds his readers to "set their minds on the things of the Spirit." The things of the Spirit are things that have eternal consequence and significance. Kingdom things that reflect Kingdom priorities. And notice that Paul recognizes that we have a choice where we set our minds. He tells us to specifically "set our minds" on things of the Spirit. That means that we, as Jesus followers, can be distracted or even led astray to set our minds on things that are not of the Spirit but of the flesh- temporal things that have no eternal consequence. When we live that way it blesses neither God nor us nor others. It's a net loss.
Without God's help teaching us to number our days and giving us wisdom, we will view and approach all of life- our work, our relationships, our belongings- according to a temporal and fleshly perspective. But we don't have to do that!
What if today you stopped to consider how you were living? What if you prayed Moses' words to God: "God, teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom?" What if we lived each and every day with that in mind?! May God today grant you wisdom to live with an eternal, Kingdom perspective.
HOW’S YOUR RETIREMENT LOOKING?
Maybe it’s because I just turned 40 last week. Or maybe it’s because we’re about to have our fifth child any day. I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ve been looking at life differently. Take, for example, two weeks ago when I received my retirement benefits statement in the mail. Talk about depressing. I know you have to take the long view with retirement investing and investing in general, but I wasn’t prepared to see where my regular contributions had gotten me after 10+ years.
As I said, there are moments in time when we begin to see life differently. This life at least.
Consider with me for a moment the fact that not everyone reading this email is going to enjoy the same level of retirement in this lifetime. Some of us may not be able to retire at all. But retirement was never what this life was really about anyhow. And besides, if you’re a true Jesus follower whose life is about seeing His Kingdom coming to earth, you and I may eventually retire from our day jobs but we will never retire from our Kingdom work.
One other interesting note is that not everyone reading this email is going to enjoy the same level of eternal retirement. Or should I say, ‘eternal reward’. In a society where we work for fairness and equality in all things, God’s Kingdom isn’t exactly set up the same way. Some who enjoy posh retirements here and now may live with small eternal reward while others who face financial challenges here in this life will receive a crown and treasures unimaginable in the coming age. Heaven is for real and so are God’s promises of eternal rewards. The question is, where are you most investing for your real ‘retirement’?
Jesus often spoke about eternal rewards. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matt. 16:27). “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in Heaven that will not be exhausted….” (Luke 12:33). “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21).
It seems pretty clear from Jesus’ teaching that there is an eternal reality through which we are to view our short existence here on earth. And the Apostle Paul echoes Jesus’ words by continually talking to the Church about laying up heavenly treasure and living in such a way as to receive a crown.
The ultimate question that Jesus and Paul are asking is a heart question: where and what is your treasure? Is your driving focus in life about using the gifts, time and resources God has given you for His Kingdom……or for yours?
With the New Year approaching, perhaps this is a great time to prayerfully assess your life and your priorities. If you got a retirement benefit statement in the mail today from heaven, how would it read? Would you be depressed or excited? What would it reveal about your heart and your treasure?
I don’t know how your earthly retirement is taking shape, but I do know that there is an eternal investment account that you and I need to be paying particular attention to because God is. Let’s seek first His Kingdom together in 2017!
Finish Strong! That's the life motto of Nate Ebner: New England Patriot, Olympian and Super Bowl champion, whose life and trials were recently chronicled in an E:60 piece by ESPN. It's not enough to just compete.....you have to finish strong.
I was reading about King Asa of Judah. He was the great grandson of King Solomon and ruled for 41 years. His story is told in 1 Kings 15 and again in 2 Chronicles 15-16.
Asa was an amazing king who brought rest and peace for his people during his rule. In the early going, the Bible tells us that Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God (2 Chr 14:2). In addition to destroying the altars used for worshiping false gods and aggressively ridding Judah's cities and land of idols and high places, the Bible tells us that he also repaired the altar of the LORD. Asa was so zealous for the things of God that he even deposed his grandmother as queen for her worship of Asherah, a false goddess. That's pretty intense!
The writer of 2 Chronicles makes it very clear that Asa's success and prosperity as king was intimately linked to the way in which he wholeheartedly sought the Lord. And, as a result, he led his people to do the same.
Asa looked to God in everything, seeking God first even when it came to national security. In one instance, Asa had an army of 580,000 men facing an Ethiopian by the name of Zerah. Zerah and his army of 1 million strong, came out for battle against Asa. It did not look good for Asa and Judah. As was his practice, Asa sought the Lord first. In 2 Chronicles 14:11, Asa cried to the LORD his God, 'O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you and in your name we have come against the multitude.'
In the next few verses the Bible tells us that the LORD defeated the Ethiopian army, giving every single enemy soldier into Asa's hands and delivering a great victory. The Lord was so pleased with Asa's response in that situation that he sent a prophet named Azariah to encourage him and tell him that the Lord is with you as long as you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you (2 Chr 15:2).
All was well. The Lord had given rest to Asa and his people.
But something happened between year 15 and year 35 of Asa's rule. Something internal. Asa had started strong with great intensity of devotion for the Lord....seeking Him first in all things. The Bible doesn't explicitly say what it was that crept in, but something changed in Asa.
In the 35th year of his reign, King Baasha of Israel, Asa's enemy to the North, began increasing pressure on Asa economically and militarily by essentially barricading Asa and Judah in from the outside world. In the past, Asa had sought the Lord. But this time, Asa did something different. He acted alone.
Asa's intuition told him the solution to this developing crisis was to empty God's house- the temple- of it's gold and silver and give it to the pagan king of Syria in exchange for some help with Baasha. So that's exactly what Asa did. And it worked! King Baasha backed off. Asa breathed easily again. All was well. Or not exactly......
In the very next verse we read that God sent Hanani the seer to rebuke Asa. He recounted to Asa all that God had done on his behalf and scolded Asa for relying on a pagan king instead of God's strength. Then Hanani shared this famous message with Asa: "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war" (2 Chron. 16:9).
The Hebrew phrase for a committed heart essentially means "wholehearted devotion." At the temple's dedication, Solomon prayed for the people to have "wholehearted devotion." And later in his own life, we read that Solomon's wives turned his heart toward other gods and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord. One writer says that his wives bent his heart away from God.
That's what had happened to Asa. His heart had been bent away from God. He even imprisoned Hanani the seer because he was angry with the word of the Lord. And his hardness of heart is further illustrated when, at the end of his life, he contracts a painful foot disease. Rather than seeking the Lord, he relied only on physicians.
Sadly, Asa did not finish strong.
All of us have a race to run while on this earth. It's not enough merely to compete. The Apostle Paul tells us to run in such a way as to win the prize. To finish strong.
For Solomon it was his wives. For Asa it may have been pride and trying to take credit for something that God had done. It could have been comfort, ease or wealth that put his heart to sleep and caused him to believe that he was the source of his own success.
Asa's story illustrates the fact that any and all of us are susceptible to having our hearts bent away from God. We all need to safeguard our hearts so that we finish strong. Seeking God must be a life pursuit, not just something that happens in fits and spells or in our early years.
Even to the very end, God's grace was still evident over Asa's life. The people gave Asa a fitting burial and honored him as their king. As Mary DeMuth well notes: "When we forget God in our successes, when we cease to seek God in our trials, when we fail to train for the long race, there is still grace. Yet with God's strong support all the way to the end we can have a heart completely devoted to Him."
Let's seek the Lord today and finish strong together!
In his book The Pastor, Eugene Peterson describes the Church as a "colony of heaven in a country of death." God's Kingdom and God's Kingdom people are meant to stand as lighthouses of His love to the world in which He has sent us into!
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. -Jesus (Jn 15)
Isn't it an overwhelming thought that Jesus loves us in the same way that God the Father loves Him? And Jesus' desire is that we take that same love He has given us and share that love with others!
In her book Praying The Names of Jesus, author Ann Spangler tells the story of journalist Randy Frame who, in the mid-1990's, along with a team of other journalists and business leaders, was invited to Haiti to view it's problems close up. Trained as a reporter to maintain his distance, Randy wasn't prepared for what happened on the last day of his trip.
That day the group visited La Cay Espwa, the "House of Hope," a refuge for starving children cared for by a small group of nuns. As soon as Randy entered the two-room structure, a nun by the name of Sister Conchita approached, offering him the child she cradled in her arms. Reluctant at first to take the child lest he violate his role as an objective observer, he finally gave in, deciding it would be rude to refuse.
"Her name Maria," the Sister said with broken English and a quiet smile.
"I took Maria into my arms, gingerly at first. She seemed so fragile: I could practically see the skeleton beneath her skin. Only her eyes seemed to have escaped the circumstances of her young life. Her eyes were deep brown and as shiny as any healthy child's ought to be. She focused them not on me, but on Sister Conchita. It was clear I was 'second string'. Perhaps my arms were not as soft or comfortable. Yet she didn't cry. Maybe she was too weak to protest being held by a stranger. Or perhaps she was glad to be in anyone's arms. How could I tell?"
After they left, Randy's tour guide explained that on average one in four of the children in the House of Hope die because their internal organs are too damaged by the time they arrive. You can spot the ones who won't make it. Lethargic, with pale, rigid skin, their hair has a reddish hue. She could have been describing Maria.
Despite being warned about the danger of venturing out alone in Port-au-Prince, Randy left the security of his hotel that night to make the two-mile trek back to the House of Hope. When he found Sister Conchita, she was still sitting on her rocker with Maria in her arms.
"As I approach Sister Conchita, she stands, sensing exactly why I have returned. She says nothing, but offers me the child. And also her chair....I have arrived at the place where I want to be. And as I live out what I'd earlier in the day envisioned, I am suddenly and fully aware of my weaknesses, my limitations. And aware also of the limitations and shortcomings of humanity, which has somehow failed this child and many like her....
I am utterly powerless to determine whether this child, who bears the image of God, will live or die this night. But I do have power-complete power-to make certain that if and when her frail body finally yields, she has felt the security, the comfort, of someone's loving arms. Tonight they are my arms. It's the least I can do for her, and also, perhaps, the most. Her weak but gracious eyes look up to mine. And hold their gaze. And in the sacred silence of this moment, there is no other power I crave, no other purpose I desire."
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you!" (Now) love each other as I have loved you."- Jesus...Emmanuel....God With Us.
Today in hundreds of small and seemingly insignificant ways, "God IS With You"- expressing Himself and His love through you and I to other image bearers. Just like Randy, you and I are called and sent to be Christ-bearers reflecting His love and presence to others.
I encourage you today to meditate on the fact that just as God loves Jesus, so Jesus loves you with a love that compelled Him to want to lay down His very life for you. You are loved. You are valuable and precious. And God is sending you and I -Greenmonte- to be a colony of heaven in a country of death.
Go in God's name and in His power today to love and serve others as you, a son and daughter of God, have been loved!
Last night I walked out into the darkness and looked up into the night sky. I was looking for something.
From morning till evening yesterday, one common thread wove it’s way through most every conversation I had with people: snow!
Right now I’m guessing that most of us are warmly huddled in our homes with enough bread and milk in reserve to feed a small army! Up and down the East Coast of the United States, tens of millions of people are doing the exact same thing as they wait out this monster storm.
Last evening as I stared into the sky it occurred to me that for almost 75 million of us living in the path of this storm, for the better part of a week our lives have orbited around one, anticipated reality: snow. Much of our time yesterday was likely filled with securing food and planning meals, checking heat, power and water reserves, and securing snow removal and recreational equipment. Many of our conversations may have centered around the impending storm and it’s duration and our preparation. For a few days, all of us have had an ‘eye to the sky’ as we’ve prepared for what has now appeared.
After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the early church began to live with an intense awareness of and expectation for the return of Jesus Christ. Especially from the time of the Apostolic fathers on down thru the early fourth Century, Jesus followers lived with an eye to the sky, awaiting His return. That anticipation fueled their resolve through the most difficult of trials, tribulations and persecutions. That singular anticipation enabled them to love their enemies, surrender their time and resources for the poor and live lives marked with the joy of the Lord during time of peril and distress. That communal consciousness bound them together as the body of Christ and infused their worship and prayers with hope. It was a reality inscribed not only in their minds and hearts but also on the pages of the Apostle’s writings themselves:
James 5:7-9 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1 John 2:28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
Revelation 1:4 To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from who is, and who was, and who is to come.
Revelation 1:7-8 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The world of the Apostles and the early church seems so radically different and far removed from the one that we inhabit today. Today in the West and the American Church in particular, I’m not sure how much of our lives are lived with the same expectation and hope for Jesus’ return. It’s hard to say that we live with an ‘eye to the sky’ in the same way that they did.
As I consider all of this, I have to recognize my own struggle to live in light of Jesus’ return. I have to ask myself ‘Why’? But I must also ask myself ‘what if I actually lived and prayed, thought about and spoke with others about His coming in the same way that I did about the snowstorm in the days leading up to it?’ What If I scanned the horizon each day looking for His return as I did last night awaiting the first snow fall?
I wonder what would change in our lives if we lived in greater expectation of Jesus’ return? Would we be more joyful? Would we be quicker to forgive and love others? Would we hold on to our belongings and earthly things a little more loosely? Would our worship be filled with greater passion? Would our prayers be prayed with greater faith and desperation? Would our priorities take on more of an eternal perspective? Would we find more reason to share with others what we’ve found in Christ? Would we long for deeper community with one another?
Maybe Jesus knew what He was talking about when He urged His followers to live daily in hopeful expectation of His return. Consider just a few of the things that He said about His return to his followers:
Luke 12:37-38 “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.
Luke 12:40 “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."
Matthew 24:40-44 “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
John 14:1-3 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
My prayer for you and I today is that we might live ever more fully in the reality of His coming. Go outside and look to the sky because He’s coming soon!
Keeping an eye to the sky…
Seth Hankee has served in pastoral ministry at Greenmonte Fellowship since 2004 and has a passion to see the church equipped for Kingdom ministry. Nothing excites him more than to see people recognize their identity and purpose in Christ and begin living that out.